Witty, brilliant and occasionally provocative, Desiderius Pongrácz was a blue-blooded count from the Hungarian aristocracy. He chose to live his life as a man of the land pursuing a career in viticulture. After graduating from the Hungarian Academy for Agriculture in 1944, instead of returning to the family estate, Desiderius Pongrácz joined the cavalry in the Hungarian army. Shortly after Hungary's surrender, he was captured by the advancing Russians.
For nearly a decade, he would toil in the infamous labour camps of Siberia as a prisoner of war, first as a lumberjack and then in the perilous Siberian copper mines. He would later credit these torturous years of drudgery and solitude for instilling in him the zeal for life that would become the hallmark of his character.
Finally, with the war over and his homeland in the steely grip of the Soviet Union, Desiderius Pongrácz was released back to Hungary. During the chaos of the Hungarian revolt, he resolved to escape and set his sights on Africa after securing a position as a farm manager in Namibia through his European nobility connections.
In 1958, he relocated to the Stellenbosch winelands where he worked as a farm manager before joining the research institute of Nietvoorby under Dr Piet Venter in 1963. While at the research institute, he obtained his Masters of Science Degree in Agriculture at the University of Stellenbosch.
In 1973, he was appointed Chief Viticultural Adviser at Distillers Corporation. During his 20 odd years in viticulture at the Cape, Pongrácz helped shape the South African wine industry through his intellect, insight, knowledge, innovation, vision and above all, fearless tenacity to pursue what he believed to be right.
He had a major influence on the introduction and propagation of premium grape varieties such as ChardonnaySauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. He understood the importance of these and other noble cultivars in the future of the South African wine industry.
Adamant to challenge the status quo that was restricting the quality and number of grape varieties available in South Africa at the time, Pongrácz lobbied for the importation of new plant material as well as a change of policy in favour of the careful selection of the best vines to propagate quality vineyards. Although it was used widely in Europe, the practice of careful selection was considered very controversial in South Africa at the time when the industry was concerned about importing new material for fear of viruses.
A pioneer in his field, Desiderius Pongrácz was instrumental in shaping new viticulture practises. He was author of a number of books and produced numerous scientific publications. His definitive book, Practical Viticulture, published in 1978, is still consulted by students today.
Written from the premise that truth needs no excuse, Pongrácz openly challenges the restrictive policies of the time. Through his expertise and that of his fellow countryman, Dr Julius Laszlo, within the framework of the Distillers Organisation, innovative producers such as Danie de Wet started planting new premium varietals, particularly Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Yet it was not by going by the book that he inspired others. For if science ruled his head, it was his many varied interests that guided his heart including classical music, anthropology and his love for Dachshunds.
Pongrácz died at the age of 61 in hospital after a tragic accident while transporting Chardonnay vines to Uitkyk Estate. Dr Anton Rupert, who was very fond of him, asked Dr Laszlo to visit him every day. He was cremated on 16 August and his ashes remain in the wall of the family cemetery on Meerlust Estate. In an obituary Nico Myburgh, owner of Meerlust at the time, referred to Pongrácz as “a true gentleman and good friend"�.
Pongrácz Rosé is made of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes which are handpicked from vineyards cooled by maritime breezes and selected for their overall quality and suitability. The Pinot Noir vines grow in deep red soil at an altitude of 320m above sea level, whilst the Chardonnay comes from vineyards at 100m to 200m above sea level.
Pongrácz Rosé is made of 60% Pinot Noir that imparts a clean flintiness, and 40% Chardonnay for its distinctive body and taste. The grapes are harvested by hand at 18, 20° Balling from January until mid-February. After whole bunch pressing with minimal skin contact, the clear grape juice is left to settle before it is pumped into steel tanks for cold fermentation. After the first fermentation and malolactic fermentation the wine is prepared for secondary fermentation in the bottle. The wine is left on the lees for two years before the sediment is removed in the traditional process of “remuage"� and “dégorgement"�. The bottles are then corked and laid down in a cool cellar for a further 2, 4 months. Dosage with Pinot Noir after “dégorgement"� lends this Cap Classique its enchanting Rosé blush.
Delicate strawberry tones are layered with whiffs of baked bread. On the palate it is perfectly balanced with clean acidity and juicy blackberry fruit.